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Portrait photography-The art of capturing thoughts and emotions

Updated on August 24, 2013

Nature's fresh

Nature's fresh
Nature's fresh | Source

Photographing people is very challenging.

In simple words, a photographic portrait is a dramatic production of personality of a human..They usually contain a person’s face, mood and expression in focus. In many cases, the subject looks straight at the camera in order to engage the viewer.

Of many facets of photography, probably the most popular with both amateur and professional is portraiture. Though, what constitutes a good and outstanding portrait is a very difficult question to answer, for opinion inters into the argument. In my opinion, a good portrait which first appeals to the photographer who is the creator, where he /she tries to present the story which he/she has conceived in his/her head and if one thinks that the goal has been achieved, it will l be a good portrait, and if a portrait receives form viewer or critic a comment like: “Wow, awesome, fantastic, marvelous, wonderful, exotic, fabulous etc.etc.”Then rejoice, yours is a good portrait.

As I have a very visual and vivid imagination and when I realized that my most apt medium is photography, I always felt the need to tell a story with my images, and the very first genre was Portrait photography. After experimenting first with films, and afterwards with Digital medium, I have produced few good portraits, which ultimately received a very positive feedback and appreciation and many of them where exhibited in various exhibitions, salons and now, on-line galleries.

Lens choice:

Here is a subject where a longer than normal lens is mandatory. If you intend to specialize in big head-and shoulders shots, a 120-135 mm lens should be your first requirement. If most of your pictures are likely to be half-length portraits, this lens will be inconveniently long. You will have to work from a greater distance and will, in addition, suffer some loss of framing due to the fore-shortening effect of the greater camera –to-subject distance. For this work a 90-100mm lens is ideal .As a good rule good portraiture is only possible when the working distance is such as to produce pleasing perspective and these two suggestions are made on this basis. There may, however at times when you wish to exaggerate the perspective of a portrait by adopting a closer than normal viewpoint. For this a 35mm lens comes in useful. Conversely, you can lessen, e.g., a very prominent nose by selecting a more than usually distant viewpoint and perhaps employing a 200mm lens, though earlier recommended 135 mm lens can also be used from this distance, but at the cost of a greater degree of enlargement. To obtain a good perspective, avoid having the cameras too near to subject, if possible no nearer than about 6-8 ft.

Light plays the major role:

Two very important Tips

· While photographing people in their natural environment, you will often have to deal with inadequate lighting conditions. In such times, the inbuilt light meter of the camera is used to evaluate the subject and by stepping down one stop up and down (Of course in manual mode), thus taking three shots to ensure you get a good result. By underexposing the little (about half a stop) , will result in richer colors in the scene. Another solution to low lighting condition is to adjust the ISO setting. A lower ISO will help in getting the image noise low. In cases where faster shutter speed is required, this setting should be adjusted to a higher ISO.

· Another very important aspect which one should take care of is the White Balance setting in the camera. A correct white balance, according to the scene requirement, will result in correct rendering of the colors. It is also very important; one should keep on manipulating the camera settings according to the changing light conditions, to get a satisfactory result. Observing and evaluating the prevailing light condition is of prime importance.

Signs of time

Signs of time
Signs of time | Source

Facial expression and texture of the skin:

For me, capturing the texture of the facial skin is very important because it contributes to the expressive quality of the portrait. When presented, a viewer should feel visible effect it generates and tempt to touch photograph. I have seen one of my students, when given one of my photographs, literally started touching it, as if he is trying to have a feel of emotions depicted in the shot.

Silent noise

Silent noise
Silent noise | Source


  • · “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph in black and white you photograph their souls!!”-Ted Grant
  • · “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”- Dorothy Lange

Let your photograph talk through them:

To make the eyes, the center of attraction, you should focus them very sharply, using single-point focus, as they are the most important part of not only the face but the entire body of a person. At a glance, a person may look of dismal character, but when the exact expression is captured, the eyes may tell an entirely different story. Many of my photographs presented here, confirm this fact and statement.

Sometimes, in a crowded gathering, one will find a particular face which is inviting to be photographed. Here it is important to include only the part of the entire scene which contributes to the story you want to tell through that face.. Try to exclude all other elements which may cause distraction. In this case a telephoto lens and a wide aperture will do the job.

The mesmerizing look

The mesmerizing look
The mesmerizing look | Source

The hermit in deep trance

The hermit in deep trance
The hermit in deep trance | Source


Lost | Source

Shooting while roaming the streets

My favorite place, where I get immense opportunity for capturing people from various walks of life, e.g.,well to do families, street hawker, pavement dwellers, laborers,on-lookers,teenager,old and young along with children etc.etc..Mingling with the crowd, having a telephoto lens and eagerness to shoot people, you will certainly get very good candid shots. Sometimes you will get a good photograph, without people knowing that they are being photographed, as in one of my photographs where one traffic constable holding a whistle in his mouth, looks almost lost in performing his duty.

Another time, it is necessary to let people know that they are being photographed and willing to cooperate and communicate through your camera. To get a good street candid shot, one has to have good patience and a polite behaviorilistc approach.

Upright cop

Upright cop
Upright cop | Source

Speaking eye

Speaking eyes
Speaking eyes | Source

Untold stories

Click thumbnail to view full-size
QuestionWhat is beyondYouthfulnessWell,I forgot something
Question | Source
What is beyond
What is beyond | Source
Youthfulness | Source
Well,I forgot something
Well,I forgot something | Source

Making portrait of children:

I find photographing children very challenging and difficult, because the fickleness of their nature. But a good child portrait is priceless and an asset for photographer. To capture their mood it is important, you make them feel comfortable with you as well the atmosphere. Children behave differently with changing atmosphere. They will interact with their friends and their age groups may be, mischievously, and their expressions and mood will then become very attractive. When dealing with their teacher or adults, they will give entirely earnest sobriety and then their portrait will look very attractive. It is advisable to let children play with their group of friends and you will find that they are wonderful source of visual invention and surprise.

Probably the most important aspect t of child photography I’ve learned is to get on their level. Sometimes it is almost necessary to get down on your hands and knees or if required you need to crouch down before you take a shot of a child. It is like you enter into their world and helps you to engage with them through the images you take.

Golden advice: Follow the Rule of Thirds

  • · When composing the photo, try to use the rule of thirds to properly position the subject. The rule of thirds refers to the division of a portrait frame into thirds by equally dividing the frame with three horizontal lines and three vertical lines forming nine boxes. When shooting portraits, try to keep the subject's eyes, head and shoulders in the top third of the frame.


Click thumbnail to view full-size
LoveSee,my tongueWhat beyond?My spit bubble
Love | Source
See,my tongue
See,my tongue | Source
What beyond?
What beyond? | Source
My spit bubble
My spit bubble | Source
What are you looking at?
What are you looking at? | Source

Miracles of nature

The future
The future | Source
Inheritor of the world
Inheritor of the world | Source
Lovely | Source
Astonished | Source

Nomadic beauty

Nomadic beauty
Nomadic beauty | Source

For getting amazing portraits, following tricks and suggestions may help:

  • Experiment with photo editing, with the help of Photoshop one can create magical images.
  • Proper framing of the subject is of prime importance
  • Sometimes it is advisable to break all the rules of composition to get a unique shot of your liking.
  • Play with the existing lighting conditions by Under exposing and slight Over exposing
  • Without the awareness of the subject, a candid shot in natural environment, will give you wonderful result.
  • Ask you subject to pose for you according to your liking, if the situation allows
  • Capture the unique feature of the subject, don’t go for the obvious
  • One can experiment with going closer to subject
  • After finishing the photograph, cropping will add beauty by isolating the distinct characteristic of your photograph.
  • Take another shot by keeping the subject slightly out of focus; a blurred image sometimes makes a great portrait. Or one can create the Bokeh while editing with Photoshop
  • Experiment by excluding and including other elements of the scene
  • Some properties can be added to create some sort of interactivity with the subject
  • Making proper use of existing lighting conditions by adjusting the inbuilt features of the camera
  • Ask your subject to look off the camera or look inside the actual photo
  • If you have ample times and situation, experiment with different lenses and filters
  • It is not necessary to follow the theoretical rules and regulations of photography, because in portrait photography especially candid photography thinking outside the usual track will give you miraculous results.

The fairy

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Last but not least

In the end in the words of Sam Albell-“Photography, alone, of the arts seems perfect to serve the desire humans have for a moment-This very moment to stay.”

Shooting portraits in indoor studios and under artificial lights, is a complex job and requires many skills .This subject will be covered in possibly another article.


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